Feb 16 2017
A few months ago, I found myself in a conference for technology company CEOs where we had an opportunity to share and learn best-practices around building and scaling successful software companies. I was honored to be there representing the company that I co-founded, Askuity, which has seen tremendous growth since our market launch.
While many sessions left their mark on me, perhaps the one that had the most impact was the one concerning the importance of choosing the right ‘tech stack’ to enable our sales teams. This session was led by Bob Vaez, CEO of a leading event management software company called Eventmobi.
As a high growth business targeting thousands of brands, we at Askuity have had to make strategic investments to enable our sales team to identify and convert prospects by the hundreds. Our sales team makes daily use of various sales enablement tech tools, including CRM, email automation, lead databases, screensharing, e-signature etc. to help them do their jobs. Without a doubt, these technologies significantly improve our sales force effectiveness and allow them to focus on what they do best: selling.
This got me thinking. What do our non-technology customers – consumer product brands who sell their products through retailers – view as their sales enablement technology stack? Do they even think of enabling their teams with technology the same way that technology companies do? And should they?
Unlike a sales rep at a software company like Askuity, the typical National Account Manager (NAM) at a brand may cover anywhere from one to a handful of key accounts, rather than covering a territory of hundreds of prospects at any one time. In turn, at each of a NAM’s key accounts, there are a few key people that he or she needs to maintain contact with: the buyer, the assistant buyer, the replenishment manager and other similar roles. If they cover accounts that have store level or regional sales teams, then perhaps there are a few more contacts they need to track. But it’s certainly not the thousands of contacts that a software salesperson would need to organize in a CRM to manage their day.
Beyond contacts and accounts, the process for a NAM to ‘sell’ is again very different from a software salesperson’s. A NAM’s selling process is not transactional in nature; rather, it is a relationship-based one that – hopefully – grows and strengthens over time. A NAM may be managing several programs with their retailers during the course of the year – for example, new product introductions, promotions, special buys – but, in contrast to a software salesperson, they don’t have hundreds of sales processes that need to be tracked and managed in a CRM tool.
So given all that, what exactly is the killer sales enablement app for a NAM? What tool, above all else, does a successful NAM at a brand selling into retail need to do their job well?
To answer this question, we need to first ask, what does doing their job “well” mean for a NAM?
Ultimately, the goal for a NAM – much like any other sales professional – is to hit his or her sales targets. Easy enough. But given the two-step nature of the brand’s sales – first to the retailer, then from the retailer to the consumer – simply tracking their shipments to a retailer captures only half the story. From an account management perspective, an effective NAM will have a 360 degree view of their retail customer – what’s selling in, what’s selling out, where, why, and for how much. Because without that information, they’re unable to help their customer (ie. their retail buyer) meet their goals. And if that buyer isn’t able to meet their goals, which would include things like achieving year-over-year sales increases, hitting margin targets, increasing inventory turns, etc., that NAM won’t have that account to call on for long.
With retail buyers increasingly strapped for time and under pressure to deliver in a competitive, omni-channel world, this expectation of partnership between retailer and brand has become the norm. And with more and more data being shared between retailers and brands – point of sale data, loyalty data, demographic data – brands are finally data-enabled, at least in theory, to be that partner.
And so it hit me. If retail analytics is the key to successful retail account management, then an application like Askuity that makes retail analytics accessible, powerful and insightful, is the killer sales enablement application for a retail brand’s sales team. In fact, it can be safely argued that it is the core app in the tech stack of a truly enabled retail sales team whose core focus is on growing their business and strengthening their buyer relationships with their key retail accounts.
Smart brands are increasingly realizing that technology is not only changing the landscape of which retailers they sell to (e.g., the rise of Amazon), but also changing how they sell to their retailers. The old rules of doing business in retail no longer hold – the availability of data has changed the game and has put a premium on data-driven account management skills. Just like sales leaders at software companies, forward-thinking sales leaders at consumer product companies should be equipping their retail sales teams with the right sales enablement tech stack – including retail analytics – that will drive their success.